Friday, November 22, 2013
I was in first grade at the Sacred Heart School in Scranton, PA on November 22, 1963. It was a Friday. Pizza Day. And I had an earache.
The pain was so bad that the school nurse made the decision to send me home early, with my square slice of Proferra's pizza wrapped in wax paper and a napkin. I lived just 2 blocks away from my school, and my mother, 8 months pregnant with my brother, and with my 3-year old sister in tow, met me halfway, and we walked the block back to our apartment, where she put my sister down for a nap, put some drops into my pained ear and had me nap on the living room sofa.
I woke up to the sound of Walter Cronkite reporting about a shooting in Dallas, TX, and the possibility that someone took a shot at the President of the United States. I woke up immediately and began watching the unfolding drama and tragedy. I was wrapped in a blanket, and shivered uncontrollably as I watched the unimaginable.
The rest of that day was a blur, but I do recall eating dinner that night on TV trays in the living room, riveted to the marathon of news coverage that blanketed every channel on our TV that day. It was a sad weekend and on Sunday, after going to a somber mass at our church, we returned to watch the live coverage of Lee Harvey Oswald being brought out of a building and being shot by a man wearing a fedora. Right in front of our eyes. I remember thinking that the world was going crazy.
It was a quiet return to school on Monday, but something had changed. I was just 6 years old, but I felt different; stunned, confused and sadder than I had ever been before.
That is how I remember that day, 50 years ago.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
......est arrive! One of my favorite days of the year, simply for the sheer fun of it, when this sprightly wine is released just in time for Thanksgiving (and Hannukah too!), and just in time for some leisurely quaffing.
And again, the reason I am so fond of this wine is that is allows the drinker, I think, to taste the entire cycle of wine making: the earth, the vine, the leaf, the grape, the juice and all the flowers and berries and fruit from nearby fields. It is quite an exciting whirlwind of smells and tastes in just a few sips.
And the wine flat out goes with anything you might eat, from cheeses to veggies and fruit, fish, fowl and meats, pastas, even dessert. Versatility is the key word here. This year's vintage explodes with strawberry and raspberry and even some apple in the nose, and smacks your mouth with black cherry and raspberry, more of that apple taste, more than in previous years, and even a little citrus, while still holding onto the earthy, slightly vegetal tastes that remind you of the vineyards from where the grape (Gamay) came. Swirl your first sips of this year's Nouveau and you will feel it all, a remarkable experience, actually.
The Nouveau will really show its stuff with holiday dinners, though, because it is able to straddle all of the diverse flavors of a holiday meal, from Hannukah latkes to cranberry relish, herbal stuffing, butttery potatoes candied yams and roast turkey, even (gasp) green bean casserole. I happen to think it goes pretty well with pecan pie, too, if that is part of your holiday dessert selections. It will also hold its own with pumpkin and sweet potato pie and chocolate desserts.
So, kick back and enjoy this year's Nouveau. It's shockingly inexpensive ($8.09 at my local Joe Canal's store in Lawrenceville) and fun to drink!
Thursday, August 29, 2013
I've had a few "whoa" dining moments in my life. Not as many as you'd think, given my food writing career, but enough to make each one distinctly special. My first bites of tomato pie from Delorenzo's on Hudson St. in Trenton in 1992. Escargot in Champagne Butter at the original Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia in 1980. Square pizza topped with porcini mushrooms from DiFara in Brooklyn in 2004. Buffalo shrimp from Frenchy's in Clearwater, FL in 1995. Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale and a plate of nachos at Isaac Newton's in Newtown, PA in 1996. Shrimp wonton noodle soup at NY Noodletown in NYC's Chinatown on more visits that I can count.
Lsst Saturday I had another startling "whoa" moment at a new restaurant in town, Inchin's Bamboo Garden, a new outpost of the 11-locations chain from, of all places, Georgia.
The restaurant concept boasts a fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisines (from which the fictional Inchin name is derived), with some Thai and Malaysian notes thrown in for good measure, But this food is nothing like any Asian food I've ever had before.
The backstory of this small chain is based on the 18th century Chinese migration to India, specifically to the ports of Calcutta and Madras. And it is the substantial Chinese population and influence in Calcutta that inspires the menu at Inchin's.
The photo above gives only a hint of the atmospheric decor of the places, housed in what used to be the decades-old Rider college hangout bar, The Carousel, and briefly a Chinese buffet restaurant.
Moody statuary exaggerated faces greet you at the entrance and vestibule, dark woods, bamboo and carved teak decorate the walls and help create several different dining spaces, and set the escapist tempo of the place. A solicitous host and waitstaff (maybe a little too solicitous) great you quickly and eagerly. OK, points for enthusiasm. They have a lot to be enthusiastic about.
The menu is huge and highlighted by an abundance of vegetarian dishes and options. The kids ordered egg drop soup and coconut soup with chicken, from a menu of 19 different soups (9 non-vegetarian, 10 vegetarian), and both bore no resemblance to any such soup in a Chinese or Thai restaurant that I've ever seen. The egg drop soup was snowy white with a rich chicken broth aroma and a tamarind note that elevated it several levels above the Chinese soup staple. The dark orange coconut soup was perfumed with galangal and had sliced dark mushrooms and dark meat chicken and a growing heat level courtesy of jalapeno threads that rested on the bottom of the bowl. It proved even a bit too spicy for my daughter, who can hold her own when it comes eating the heat of most Szechuan dishes.
An order of "veg coins" brought small pancakes, slightly bigger than poker chips, damn near drowned in a "hot garlic" sauce and shreds of onions, red and green peppers. On the menu the hot garlic sauce is billed as "spicy", which is on the lower end of the heat scale at Inchin's ("very spicy" and "fiery" are the hotter settings).The plump patties, made from shredded carrot, cauliflower and squash, were greaselessly fried and the sauce packed quite a punch, and was a preview of how hot things can get here. Chili Chicken, touted on the menu as the house specialty, was a definite notch higher in heat (and listed as "very spicy"---sweet Jesus, how hot can "fiery" be??)and the equal of anything I've had at notable Szechuan eateries such as Szechuan House in Hamilton and the Han Dynasty restaurants in the Philadelphia area. The sauce was sweet and tongue-numbing hot and studded with green and red peppers and scallion rings. Mongolian Chicken was white meat chicken tossed in a sticky sauce of caramelized sugar and onions over a nest of puffy fried taro root shreds, and the kids gobbled it up.I kinda liked it too.I ordered beef with hot garlic sauce and it looked to have the same sauce that graced the veg coins, but this dish's heat level was turned up quite few notches, which really enhanced the beef slices but put a serious hurt and sweat on my head.
My daughter really took charge of the menu here, showing her growing confidence in restaurant dining, and ordered Burnt Garlic Chili Fried Rice with Vegetables and Singapore Noodles with vegges for the table. Good choices for the most part. The rice was a nice departure, studded with browned garlic bits and crushed chillies, it has a spicy undertone which cut some of the extreme heat of the entrees, while the Singapore noddles were actually a bit dull, lacking the usual yellow curry punch that most versions have. But again, along with some bowls of white rice, the noddles were a good foil for the spice wallop of the chicken and beef dishes.
But the overall experience, the atmosphere, the vibrant color and composition of the dishes and the startling heat level of what we ate, combined with the fusion of Asian flavors in ways we had just never experienced before in any Chinese, Indian, Thai or Malaysian restaurant, were flat out dazzling.
There are 10 other Inchin's Bamboo Gardens in the US so far, from Atlanta to Austin, Cleveland to Columbus, Dallas (2) , Raleigh, Scottsdale, San Fransisco and Seattle. I would hope they would be at the same culinary level as we found this new one in Lawrenceville. Don't hesitate to get to one. You'll be dazzled.
But bring your best asbestos tongue.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
When you think of Oktoberfest, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Well, beer of course. But then, you also know it's about October, Germany, beer halls the size of airplane hangars, giant pretzels, giant liter steins, giant busty girls in dirndls, drinking songs, enormous pork shanks and all that malty, malty beer. Prosit!
The other day I got an e-mail invitation from Philly's most famous tavern, McGillin's Olde Ale House, the 153 year old establishment (2nd oldest in the country!) that has become a reliable destination for very good beer and food and an atmosphere like no other place I know. The invitation was titled "Oktoberfest Starts on August 26". You read that correctly. "Oktoberfest Starts on August 26".
Now, just to be clear, I have the ultimate respect for McGillin's and the Mullins family, who have taken the legacy of the McGillin clan and burnished it brightly while keeping the historic landmark tavern as one of the best in Philly, and for that matter, the country.
So when I wrote back to McGillin's asking why their Oktoberfest was starting so early (it runs through October 6, by the way), their response was: "When the Oktoberfest beer comes in, McGillin’s serves it. There’s no holding back – when WE get it/You get it!"
And therein lies the problem, I think. Beer companies are rushing both Oktoberfest beers and pumpkin beers to market WAY too early. The shelves of my local beer stores are already packed with dozens of craft brew Oktoberfests and pumpkin beers and it's still AUGUST. Someone needs to talk to these guys and beg them to hold off just a little longer. Let us have our summer. Oktoberfest beers and hot humid weather, sand in our toes and the sounds of summer just don't work. Think about it. It's like decorating department stores for Christmas in October. Yeah, I know, it's already happened.
The summer sun is far from fading, temperatures are still in the 80s and high 70s, mosquitos (at least here in the Garden State) are as abundant as ever, and backyard grills are still in full seasonal operation.
It's not time for beers best suited for the Fall.
McGillin's also sent me their lineup for Oktoberfest and it is damn impressive:
Flying Fish's Octoberfish,
Sly Fox's Oktoberfest Lager,
as well as international Oktoberfest beers.
My mouth waters at the thought of all those great beers, the jovial, old-school atmosphere, and a plate of sausages from the very very underrated kitchen at McGillin's.
But can we just wait until maybe mid-September?
Monday, April 1, 2013
Well, I've had some time to think about things over the last few days, days that have been filled with far too much sadness to re-tell and re-live, but I think it's time for a change. I think it's time to head west, as much for a change of scenery as a change of perspective. You might call it a mid-life crisis, but I frankly think I'm already too old for that. I'm not itching for a girlfriend half my age or a ragtop Porsche (not that I would turn them down if offered....), or anything to mask the grey on my temples. It's just TIME, time to regroup and rethink a lot of things and spend some time where I've spent far too little time. And there's been a Public Relations Director job with Charles Schwab that's been calling my name for years and I think I'm ready for the challenge. And so do they. So I'm 'Frisco-bound.
With the help of my good friend, Philly radio icon Pierre Robert, I'll be borrowing his famous VW bus "Minerva" (below) in which he trekked his way to Philly some 30 odd years ago to ply his music-spinning trade, and heading west to where the wind and Minerva's sturdy engine will take me. Pierre assures me that Minerva comes with tons of good karma accumulated over the years and will carry me in good stead (along with anything I might find in the many crevices of his cleverly designed home-away-from-home.
This will, alas, be a solo project. The twins have no such wanderlust desires, and besides, as they matter-of-factly pointed out to me yesterday, they're just starting Little League and the season begins next Saturday. The Queen (more about her later), will hold the fort and get to enjoy each and every one of those Little League games and hopefully text some photos from time to time. She actually seemed quite eager to help me pack, despite the sling she's wearing after her recent rotator cuff surgery. It's good to have help and even some enthusiasm.
So, off I go, hoping to stop by to see friends and family in Ohio, Chicago, Oklahoma City and maybe even Austin. Some hot dogs and deep dish in Chi-town sure might hit the spot. And some onion burgers and chicken fried steak in OKC, maybe even time for some cigars and fedora shopping with my dear friend Bob. Some barbecue outside of Austin will be a must-stop as well.
WIsh me luck. Can't wait to catch sight of that Golden Gate bridge, God and Minerva both willing. Keep in touch here with suggestions for stops along the way. I hear it's a pretty long drive.
Friday, March 29, 2013
I lost a dear friend of 14 years this morning, my cat Sammy, my nighttime TV buddy, my sleep-on-my-legs-until-they-we
Woke up with him this morning, after a couple of pretty frail days, and he was awake and looking at me, and then he just left, right then and there. Pretty startling moment, very quiet and calm, 8 am on the dot. Don't know why I noticed that, but I did.
Always called him my buddy, and that's what he'll always be.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
I promised myself this year that I would low-key my March Madness brackets activity, and for the most part, I have. I've entered 9 different bracket challenges this, contest with all sorts of prizes and awards. But after Thursday's and Friday's stunning upsets, there isn't going to me that much to talk about.
My brackets are in ruins.
But so are most of America's. Who would have EVER picked Harvard to upset New Mexico so stunningly? Or Wichita State to stomp all over Pittsburgh? Ole Miss taking out Wisconsin? Or Florida Gulf Coast University blowing the doors off Georgetown? C'mon now. Nobody saw these coming.
So enjoy the Cinderellas and the Big Boys and see who's gonna topple another basketball icon. You know they'll be a few more. You just know it.
As for me, I'm gonn na sxee how Far Temple and Lasalle can take themselves this year. I've got a good feeling about Lasalle. Even though I picked them to lose from the beginning.